Impact of this has been reinforced several times by residents during block visits these few weeks.Getting flak for this is fine if she were running in an election to be Supreme Copyeditor of Singapore, Number One English Teacher of Singapore, or Clearest Communicator in English in Singapore. God knows I would circle the sentence sternly with a red pen and make sarcastic annotations if, as a teacher or an editor, I came across it in my work.
But she's not. She's running for political office.
Lots of people speak imperfect English, in Singapore and beyond. If we're going to insist on all our political candidates speaking impeccable English, then let's start going after every single one of them: male, female, PAP, not-PAP.
If not, then leave language issues well the hell alone. Or if you're going to invoke them, at least admit your own class and cultural prejudices about why you think a person ought to write or speak English in a certain way. (Yes, Ng Tze Yong who writes that Workers Party candidate "even speaks like a Chinese foreign worker", I'm looking at you.)
* * *
On a related note, this morning I came across "Why Singaporeans are outraged by the idea of Tin Pei Ling in a GRC, but not MG Chan Chun Sing", in which Visakan Veerasamy recounts a conversation with a friend who said:
"I think that people are spending far too much time scrutinising Tin Pei Ling and not enough time on other candidates [...] Singaporeans should instead direct their attention to the candidates who are obviously being earmarked for big things in the future e.g. MG [Major-General] Chan Chun Sing,* BG [Brigadier-General] Tan Chuan Jin and the MAS [Monetary Authority of Singapore] head Heng Swee Keat."Or as @illyrica tweeted succinctly last week:
Sexism-driven focus on Tin Pei Ling misses the point. Every single candidate should be standing in an SMC [single member constituency].(For more on the "sexism-driven focus", see Jessica Cheam's "Fairer sex, fair game?" [via @illyrica].**)
- Some people are picking on Tin Pei Ling (or any other single candidate) and ignoring all other candidates. I think that is revealing of what their focus is, sexist or not.
- Some people are arguing that Tin is unqualified to be a political candidate. To which I say, what do you mean by "qualified" and how do other candidates (PAP or not-PAP) measure up to those standards? Following Visakan's friend's point quoted above, are army officers, government scholars*** and senior civil servants any more "qualified"?
- If people object to the fact that the group representation constituency (GRC) system allows brand-new political candidates to "ride into Parliament on the back" of existing parliamentarians (in the words of Visakan's friend), then the issue is not about Tin Pei Ling but the political infrastructure that has been set up by the ruling PAP government, and should be examined as such (see for instance "Papsicles 1" by Yawning Bread, in which he highlights two PAP parliamentarians who will be leaving politics "without ever having to face a contest at an election.").
Does any of this make for a healthier, more principled level of discussion about politics in Singapore?
* Full disclosure: Chuan Jin is my friend's brother and slated to run in my constituency, Marine Parade GRC. I believe the last time I saw him was close to 20 years ago at their home. I believe the only thing I've ever said to him was, "Hello."
** Full disclosure part 2: I taught Jessica when she was doing her 'A' Levels some years ago. We're still in touch, but I had nothing to do with the article she wrote.
*** I haven't had the time to examine this thoroughly, but my perception is that when a former recipient of a government scholarship is still employed by the government, e.g. Chan Chun Sing and Tan Chuan Jin, the press refers to him/her as a "government scholar". If they are no longer working for the government, although they have fulfilled their scholarship obligations (as I have), they are referred to in the press as "former government scholars". I hope I'm mistaken --- am I?
**** The PAP logo includes a symbol of a lightning rod.
Labels: Singapore stories